UX Jedi Mind Tricks Lesson One: You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned


The first lesson to becoming a UX Jedi Master is to unlearn something you have subconsciously learned and act on every day – that is the assumption that most people, especially non-UX designers, are idiots, willfully ignoring the extremely obvious advantages to your genius proposal that is right in front of them.

ALERT! Most people are NOT evil, stupid, out to get you, hateful, or unreasonable. Seriously.

However, people ARE self-interested, self-absorbed, biased, fearful, oblivious, and embarrassed. (That includes you, by the way.)

Why is this important? Two reasons:

  1. Nearly all human beings are psychic. That is, they know what you are thinking of them even if they don’t know that they know. If you think of someone as being an idiot, they will react, subconsciously, as if you have told them that they are an idiot. How many times have you known – without a doubt – that the person on the other end of the phone was thinking you must have been dropped on your head as a child, even though they didn’t say anything more innocuous than “uh huh”? Were you able listen to what they had to say next or were you busy envisioning them squirming with discomfort while surrounded by mimes? (Maybe that last one is just me…)
    When someone believes that you think they are incapable of understanding what you say, they become incapable of understanding what you say.
  2. It’s not about you. As upsetting as that may be to many of us, people are very rarely doing anything “to” you – they are much more likely doing something “for” themselves.  You are simply a bump in the road, an obstacle, or perhaps a bridge.
    When someone assumes that your motivations are about them, personally, they will not be able to understand what your real motivations are.

So how do we reprogram ourselves to stop assuming the worst in everyone who doesn’t “get it”?

  • Assume ignorance, not stupidity
    While it is true that many people you talk to do not understand the value or impact of UX design, that doesn’t make them stupid.  Rather, it means they just haven’t had the exposure to what you have learned.  Assume that rather than being incapable of learning, they haven’t had the opportunity. Which brings us to our next point…
  • Become a teacher
    Use your extensive knowledge and skills to educate. Start by bringing up basic principles that would be helpful and asking “are you familiar with…” If they are, great – move up from there.  If not, move back further. Occasionally you may need to start with “first the earth cooled, then the dinosaurs came…” but remember, your audience is smart just ignorant – sum things up ahhh3m
  • Understand biases
    Take some time to study up on cognitive biases.  Confirmation bias (only retaining or believing information that supports our beliefs),  probability neglect (we’re bad at math), observational selection bias (equating our observation with a non-existent increase in the observed phenomenon), negativity bias (bad news is perceived as more important than good news), and many more can help give you insight into how other people are receiving your information and processing it. Brain science is seriously cool.

So, my young padawans, this is the first lesson on your path to become a Jedi. Assume ignorance, not stupidity. And remember – it’s not about you.

“You must unlearn what you have learned.” Yoda